How to Buy a Wetsuit: Everything You Need to Know

The basics of how to buy a wetsuitAs the fall weather finally starts to appear this time of year in Southern California, many surfers start to think about wetsuits. However, buying a wetsuit can be an overwhelming process! What’s the difference between a springsuit and a fullsuit? What do the numbers mean? What time of year do I wear them? We’re here to answer all your questions! Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about how to buy a wetsuit. 

How do wetsuits work?

If surfing is new to you, you may be wondering just how exactly they keep you warm. 🤔

To sum it up, the neoprene of the wetsuit creates a seal around your body and this traps a small amount of water between your skin and the neoprene when you are in the ocean. Your body warms up this water with body heat so that it becomes much warmer than the water outside of neoprene (or in the ocean). This conserves body heat as well as gives the feeling that you are surfing in water that’s warmer than it actually is.

With this in mind, it is extremely important that you choose a wetsuit that fits you well. If it’s too loose, the wetsuit won’t seal around your body and you’ll deal with a repetitive “flush”, or cold water just constantly moving through the wetsuit. Your body won’t have the chance to warm the water up. In this case, the wetsuit will not help you at all! However, it’s important to make sure that the wetsuit is tight to your skin without being so tight that you can’t move your arms and legs to paddle well and pop up. A too-tight wetsuit is NOT comfortable!

What’s a Springsuit?

Girl stands in the water in a springsuit.Springsuits are meant for the in-between months – spring and fall – and not the dead of winter. In Southern California you will have a very chilly surf session if you wear a spring suit in December! 🥶 Many people who get cold easily usually wear spring suits in the summer as well. 

Think of spring suits as half or partial wetsuits. They cover less of your body and are made of thinner material. (More on thicknesses below). There are tons of options here as wetsuit companies have become really creative with styles! For girls, spring suits typically have bikini bottoms or shorts on the lower half with long sleeves on the top. For guys, they often have shorts on the bottom half and long sleeves or short sleeves on the top. However, there are even more options available, such as the Long Jane style for women and the Long John style for men. Both these have pants on the bottom and a tank top on the top.

These are great options to try and stretch out the warmer water just a little bit longer without having to wear a heavy-duty fullsuit.

What’s a Fullsuit?

Buy a wetsuit before you surf in cold water.Fullsuits are typically meant for the dead of winter. Luckily, in Southern California we aren’t surfing in especially icy conditions, however a wetsuit is definitely needed in the winter! Fullsuits fully cover your arms and legs and are made of thicker neoprene (again, see more info on thickness below). 

There are two options here – chest zips and back zips. This refers to how you get into the wetsuit and both these options are available for men and women. A chest zip wetsuit has a flap that pulls over your head and zips up across your chest. A back zip has a zipper that goes up the back with a small flap of velcro around the neck to hold the zipper in place.

Both options are great so it usually comes down to a personal preference on what you think is most comfortable or easiest to get in and out of. Sometimes chest zip wetsuits are especially nice for girls (or guys) with long hair as the hair sometimes gets caught in the velcro on back zips. Many people find the chest zips slightly more comfortable and feel that this style creates a slightly better seal around their neck. However, often the chest zip styles are more expensive and the back zips still do the job quite well. 

What do the numbers mean? 

Girl shreds in a cute teal fullsuit.When you’re shopping to buy a wetsuit, it’s important to keep thickness in mind. This usually comes in the form of a number measuring the thickness of the neoprene in millimeters. The higher the number, the thicker and warmer the wetsuit. 

Springsuits often have a whole number for their thickness, such as 2mm. This means that the entire suit is made of neoprene that is 2 millimeters thick. 

The thickness of fullsuits is typically measured with a fraction, such as 3/2mm. The number on the top of the fraction is the thickness of the material on the stomach, chest and back areas of the wetsuit. The bottom number is the thickness for the arms and legs of the wetsuit. So for example, if your wetsuit is a 3/2, that means that your torso will have neoprene that’s 3 mm thick and the neoprene on your arms and legs will be 2 mm. 

Which thickness is best?

Guys walk on the beach after they chose to buy a wetsuitThat depends on two things. The first being how cold the water is and the second being how easily you get cold. 

The most common thickness ratios for springsuits are 2/1mm, 2/1.5mm or 2mm. These are very thin and are definitely meant for relatively warm water. They are great for the days where you just need a little more warmth than your swim trunks. 

Fullsuits are typically 3/2mm, 4/3mm or 5/4mm. A 3/2 is great for late fall or early spring when a springsuit isn’t quite enough, but the water isn’t freezing. You could get through the entire winter with a 3/2 comfortably in Southern California if you’re pretty cold-tolerant. However, 4/3 mm is the standard winter wetsuit thickness in SoCal. You should stay nice and toasty even on the colder days of the season with a 4/3!

Guy surfs in a wetsuit.A 5/4 is meant for colder water, such as in Northern California so they aren’t as popular down south. However, if you prefer extremely lengthy surf sessions or are very sensitive to the cold, a 5/4 is definitely the way to go!

Where should I buy my wetsuit?

Buying a wetsuit online can be a challenge for new surfers. Most online stores do have detailed sizing charts, but they aren’t always very accurate and so this can still feel like shooting in the dark.

The best thing to do if you’re buying a wetsuit for the first time is to go to your local surf shop and try on tons of styles, thicknesses, and sizes. This will help you identify what you prefer. Take note of which types you find easier to get on and off and move around in. Be sure to try on multiple sizes and multiple brands as not all brands size their wetsuits exactly the same. Once you’ve narrowed it down to which style, size, thickness, and brand is your top choice, either buy it right there in person or look for that specific wetsuit online. Sometimes there are better deals online! However, no matter where you buy it, you want to be sure to take care of it (and the rest of your surf gear) well. See a how-to guide on wetsuit care from the experts here!

While they are necessity in the winter, if you aren’t ready to buy a wetsuit, no stress.

We provide wetsuits to all of our students and we love teaching lessons in the colder months! The swells are best in the winter in Southern California, making it a great time to improve your surfing skills! Whether you’ve never surfed before or know the basics and want to strengthen your technique, we are stoked to take you out and surf with you! Book a lesson today!